BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Taking the stage at the Greek Theatre to a backdrop of old color television consoles broadcasting scenes of Robert Kennedy, Vietnam and the Mexico City Olympics protest, Ian Anderson and his band arrived to perform a 50th Anniversary celebration of the music of Jethro Tull Saturday night in Berkeley. Named after an 18th-century English agricultural pioneer, this reincarnation of Tull remains quite an entertaining crowd pleaser.
The 70 year old Scottish singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and flutist extrodinare, on the short list as one of the most glaring and inexplicable omissions from the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, is the heart and soul of Tull. On this night, in a well crafted career retrospective, Anderson took the audience on a journey highlighting many of the most recognizable tunes in the bands catalog.
Naturally, as with any band with such a deep catalog of hits there were a handful of omissions. Songs such as “Bungle In The Jungle”, “Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day)” and “Nothing is Easy” quickly come to mind, but the setlist went a long way towards giving a thorough overview to the Tull archive over the course of the well received nearly two hour set. Concentrating mainly on material from the 70’s, the most recent original recording performed was a full three decades old, 1987’s “Farm on the Freeway” from “Crest of a Knave”.
Anderson is joined on this tour by David Goodier (bass), John O’Hara (keyboards), Florian Opahle (guitar) and Scott Hammond (drums). There have been a total of 36 different musicians to play with Anderson, the lone remaining band member from the original configuration in 1968.
Opening with five tracks from “This Was”, Tull’s 1968 debut album, the mixture of progressive rock, country blues, British folk music and psychedelia quickly showcased the diversity and creativity that are among Anderson’s trademarks. While the opening suite of songs were not as familiar as some of Tull’s hits to many in attendance, they were a welcome part of a fast moving performance that flew by far too quickly.
One of the nice touches over the course of the evening saw both former band members ranging from Tony Iommi, who went on to a distinguished career in Black Sabbath, to celebrity friends and fans such as Joe Elliott and Slash appear on video to either request or introduce songs. Conspicuous by his absence was Martin Barre, who toured and recorded with the band from the release of their second album in 1969 thru 2012.
Playing the storyteller between many of the songs also added a more personal touch. Near the end of the first set, introducing the song “My God” from 1971’s “Aqualung”, Anderson told a tale of how American religious zealots were offended by the song. “It wasn’t intended to give offense, but maybe I wrote it wrong”, he said in jest. The band next played a blazing version of “Cross-Eyed Mary” before retreating backstage for a brief intermission.
Returning for an action packed second set, the band proceeded to play excerpts from 1972’s “Thick as a Brick” and “A Passion Play” as it launched into a closing series of the most recognizable cuts from Tull’s long history. Still every bit the showman, Anderson’s flute playing can be both menacing and often intense. Having sold over 60 million albums worldwide, the vision of him performing while standing on one leg is truly iconic.
A pitch perfect version of the title song of 1976’s “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Too Young to Die” followed as archive footage of the band during a much more hirsute period was shown on the video monitors. “Songs From the Wood”, and “Ring Out, Solstice Bells” from the colorful 1977 folk rock album that many consider Tull’s strongest then brought the evening into its homestretch.
The title track of the following years “Heavy Horses” and “Freeway” set the stage for the inevitable conclusion that everyone knew was coming. The opening strains of a nine minute long version of “Aqualung” and a nearly as lengthy encore of “Locomotive Breath” concluded the festivities with a pair of Jethro Tull’s most recognizable cuts ringing in their fans ears on the way home. It was a splendid end to a nostalgic evening. Equally good news is the rumor that Anderson already has some new material nearly completed that could see the light of day early next year.
Jethro Tull’s 50th Anniversary Tour continues with stops scheduled to include June 5th at the Fox Theatre in Visalia and June 6th at the Sacramento Community Theater.